Religious and Cultural Sexual Repression

I help those who have been shamed into feeling guilty about normal sexual pleasure, about lust, and about sex that does not neatly qualify as heterosexual, reproductive, and monogamous marital lovemaking. Rigid religion is the arch-enemy of sex. This is not my idea. It was Wilhelm Reich’s idea in the 1930’s.

Puritanism and Victorianism combine to leave many in America without a GPS system to discover and relish passionate sex. In fact, some of my clients still feel guilty about pleasuring themselves, which is simply self-love. Some feel embarrassed to “admit” that they actually need or want a variety of sexual adventures they have only heard about, read or seen in a movie.

My colleague Dr. Marty Klein does a brilliant job of analyzing the war against sex in his book, America’s War On Sex. We live in a pluralistic society that has trouble deciding if it is a democracy or a theocracy. I opt for the former. We all need the freedom to choose how we integrate sex into our lives.

We deserve to freely discuss and express our desires and our fantasies.

Not all religions are rigid. The Unitarians and the United Church of Christ developed a progressive sex education program for teenagers that really should be in every high school. Reform Judaism is progressive about many sexual issues.

cultural repression candlesWhen my clients come to me with heavy, dysfunctional guilt and shame about sex, I use CBT to help them get rid of the thoughts that make them feel so negatively about erotic pleasure. Religions do not own sex or love. We do. We own our bodies and our minds. We own our relationships. We all have the right to make our own sexual choices as long as they do not exploit or do violence to others.

Whether they are right-wing zealots from Christianity or Islam, rigid religion represses healthy sexual desires and behaviors. Rigid religion does not do sex any favors. The current attack on pornography has deep roots in rigid religions. The entire focus on porn and sex “addiction” came from anti-sex groups and people, and from the litany of mass media which uncritically accepted and promoted the war against explicit sex.

I am not saying all pornography is healthy and helpful. Much of it is disgusting because of exploitation, aggression and inaccurate stereotypes that are passed on as truth. This does not mean that unimaginative porn is a powerful threat to civilization. We do not need sexual censorship. Instead, we need to create more healthy and erotic depictions of sex-making and lovemaking.

Pornography would not exist to the extent that it does on the Internet if it were not for sexual repression from rigid religions and a puritan culture that needs to grow up and reject those who would limit mutually consenting sex. Some pornography is sex-negative, but much of it is either sex-positive or boring and neutral.

The battle against birth control and choice about abortion is a war about what are legitimate sexual motives and meanings. As Hugh Hefner put it in his Playboy Philosophy, we need freedom from religion, not just freedom of religion. Each citizen has the right to be sexual as long as the sex is responsible. This means we need sex education in the schools so we can be responsible. If there were comprehensive sex education, there would be less of a need for sex therapists. I am sure we will always need mental health help with sex, but education would certainly help avoid a lot of misery about sex.

A pluralistic society encourages freedom of choice and freedom of expression. No monolithic code can repress human strivings for passionate love and lust. I help my clients see all of this. Some get upset when I suggest that their religious background is one prime reason for their sexual problems, but most of them take a deep breath and listen to me and they apply what they learn to rethink their sexual values and behavior.

The happiest people live in the present. This means the past cannot be allowed to dictate and limit the celebration of erotic pleasure in the present. We cannot relive the past. We cannot truly enjoy today if we worry about tomorrow. Getting into the pleasure of the moment is the way to go. It might be a gourmet meal or tantalizing sex. I vote for both!